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Denver Mayor Michael Hancock speaks during a press conference at City Hall on Dec. 4, 2019. 

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock announced on Thursday an "initial" relief fund of $4 million to support local small businesses hardest hit by the novel coronavirus.

The relief package comes three days after Hancock ordered the closure of all restaurants and bars until May 11, with the exception of drive-thru, carryout and delivery services.

Denver will provide cash grants up to $7,500 to qualifying small businesses, particularly those in sectors most impacted by the coronavirus, such as the food industry. Denver’s finance department also is waiving the 15% penalty for late payments of business taxes due in March and April.

About 250 businesses should benefit from relief fund grants, which can be applied for online, said Eric Hiraga, the executive director of the Denver Office of Economic Development. Help from the private sector, along with other local, state and federal programs, will provide support for the city's "most vulnerable" businesses as well.  

“This has been a hard time for small businesses in Denver and their employees, especially restaurants, bars, mom-and-pop shops and so many others,” Hancock said. “We are acutely aware that it’s going to be a long road to recovery, but we have a team of folks here and partner agencies and businesses throughout the city who are working to ensure everyone is cared for.”

Denver is also working to refocus its microloan program to support small businesses' stabilization efforts. Business owners who are current recipients of these loans can temporarily defer loan payments if needed, Hancock said. 

The city and the Downtown Denver Partnership are also coordinating to expand funding for small business relief and will reach out to the business community to "amplify the impact" of support by seeking donations.

Additionally, Denver Arts and Venues will award grants up to $1,000 to individual artists in Denver whose incomes are being adversely affected due to the cancellation of events, classes, performances and other creative work.  

The Department of Transportation and Infrastructure is also providing relief by suspending its enforcement of numerous parking restrictions, including in time-limited, non-metered parking areas as well as residential permit parking areas. It's also lifting 72-hour parking limits, large vehicle parking restrictions, school bus-only loading zones and booting.

All city parking meters will be free and without time limits.

“This is going to be a long haul, and we know it,” Hancock said. “These are our initial steps, and we’re going to keep working … We’re going to remain in the laboratory to determine opportunities and remedies as we work to recover from these challenges.”  

Hancock could not guarantee whether he would put the city under a shelter-in-place order within the next 48 hours, but said it wouldn’t make sense for Denver to declare a shelter-in-place order on its own without being part of a regional or statewide order.

Still, he said, “I think we ought to prepare for the whole gamut of what could possibly happen,” before stressing that Denverites nevertheless should not panic.

“Whatever we decide to do, we will have sufficient justification for making that call, and we will try to do it as responsibly as possible for all the people of Denver, the metro region and the state of Colorado,” he said.

“This is a time for us to remain calm and not panic,” he emphasized. “This is about all of our self-care and mental health, and the more we can recognize that this is a journey and that we’re going to get through this, and the more we can pace ourselves in terms of our energy and our anxiousness, the better we’re all going to be.”

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